Looking Past or Really Seeing

I was walking from a parking lot just up the road to a center where I was having a meeting recently. It was bitterly cold, a fierce wind blew more than gusted, and even bundled up, I was freezing. I usually love winter weather. After iciclesyears of living in the Sahel, I appreciate… even relish… actually being cold. I know; it’s a bit strange. Yet as I was hoofing it that morning, I yearned for a transporter that would allow me to instantly teleport back to the oft sweltering heat of West Africa.

The silver lining?

Brilliant arctic blue colored the skies, cotton ball clouds dotted that wide expanse, and the sun radiated a dazzling, blinding glow that bounced everywhere, momentarily blinding as it reflected off the snow covering the neighborhood. It was a beautiful winter morning! Living in Quebec, sunlight is a commodity to be treasured during the long hours of seasonal darkness.

I noticed something that morning. Sunlight is powerful. Incredibly powerful, in fact. That morning, it was well below 0’F (-18’C) and I had refused to look at the wind chill because I just really didn’t want to know. Yet sunshine was still melting snow. Frozen patches of ice had small streams of water flowing toward storm drains, even surrounded by all of that frigidity. It didn’t seem physically possible.

In that moment, the thought crossed my mind that this is not only true of sunshine, but also of “sonshine.” Isn’t that what we have, literally just days ago, celebrated and commemorated? That the light has come? And this light of the world, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His message of love, grace, justice and mercy softens and then melts even the iciest, most hostile hearts.frozen-tree

Anyone else ever find it interesting – even revealing, perhaps – that in the English language, sun and son are homonyms?

Light not only has the power to warm, but it also has the power to reveal. When I open the door and flip on the light to one of my children’s bedrooms, that light quickly discloses whether they’ve kept their room picked up or whether I might be better to don a hazmat suit before entering. God, similarly, shines a light into my innermost being, exposing good… and bad.

Not long after we had returned from Africa, we heard that one of the vendors from whom we often purchased souvenirs, thank you cards and other assorted trinkets had passed away. He had a handicap – in a wheelchair, I’m assuming, as a result of polio – and as a special educator, I think I know why I was initially drawn to him. I’d see him almost every time we went to the little vegetable market. He’d often wheel up to our Land Cruiser and try and talk with my children… enticing them with some of the hand crafted toys he sold… while I bartered for tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and onions. He’d often give me “inside info” as to the real price of the produce – always an improvement on the expat price. He didn’t really speak any of the languages I knew… or was learning… I didn’t speak his language. But when it was time for business – to buy thank you cards or gifts, he was my go-to man. I don’t know how many years we’d attempted to exchange pleasantries. So I was not only shocked icy-branchesbut heart-broken when I heard the sketchy details of his death a few months after our departure: that somehow his wheelchair flipped over and no one noticed him lying helpless in a ditch until he was so weak and sick that the minimal care available at the local hospital could not save him. And just like that, he was gone. How could no one have noticed?

Lately on Facebook, I’ve seen a couple of different videos circulating (at least one was a social experiment) where some young teen stands out on a busy city street, in the freezing cold – shivering, without a coat and holding a sign asking for help. Person after person walks by, eyes fixed on some far off destination. No one stops to help; only a few even glance his direction. The exception was a homeless man who shed his own coat and then wrapped the boy in it. Again, how can people just pass by others so obviously in need? Why is it so easy to assume that “someone else” will deal with the problem instead of becoming part of the solution?

I was listening to my 13 year old daughter, a verified people-watcher, share with her sisters the other day. She was talking about how often times she’ll see someone and think, “Poor lady. She’s really not very attractive,” or “That guy has the most awkward features.” But then, she said, “I’m trying to teach myself to look more deeply at the person. When I do, I always find something lovely in them. And, the more I try, the more quickly God shows me other people’s attractive qualities.”

Her words were powerful – like warming, revealing sunlight. So often, I’m determined to choose to love others, often in spite of who or what they are… as I’ve been known to say to my kids, “warts and all.” When that is my focus, however, I simply strive to look past the unattractive and in so concentrating, I never actually see the other person. I never ask God to show me how one created in His image also reveals Him. True, my daughter, at her present age and maturity, focuses primarily on physical attributes and features – but the key is that she isn’t trying to look past the unpleasant or the ugly. She acknowledges its presence, but then looks deeper to really see and appreciate the beautiful that is there.


As 2017 begins, I’m praying that God engraves deep upon my own heart this lesson learned through the example of my young one. It isn’t enough to overlook what I deem disagreeable in others.

One way I can courageously live the Gospel includes asking God to reveal winsomeness in each person I meet, not only freeing me to love others but also allowing me to better know Him through the people He has so lovingly created… in His image.


When was the last time God showed you something about His nature by allowing you to see it in one of the people He created in His own image?

What is one of your goals for 2017?

Who’s Writing this Story Anyway?


It has been 17 years since my husband and I, with our three four-and-under children, first left for the mission field.  Almost 20 years (and five more kids) since we first began preparing to make that move.

But that wasn’t our first experience with missions.

My husband’s parents had retired from their first careers to serve as missionaries in northern, rural Haiti. And right after I finished my master’s degree, I spent a year as a short-termer in SE Asia.

Those initial missions experiences sobered us as we saw firsthand some of the “institutionalized” mistakes missionaries have made, including:

  1. the negative impact of an expat culture strongly influenced by colonization on ministry strategies,
  2. the danger of authoritarian structures without corresponding accountability, and
  3. the hazards of unrecognized assumptions about both host and home cultures.

Those same experiences also humbled and challenged us for we had also witnessed

  1. sacrificial service long before the conveniences of today’s technological advances revolutionized communication and travel,
  2. the legacy of wisdom demonstrated by patience and costly humility, and
  3. faithful ministry in the midst unbelievable pressure and even, sometimes, persecution.

Thus, when we moved to Africa 17 years ago, we went idealistic, not so much about missions or who/what missionaries were and what they did – for we had a fledgling knowledge of the great potential for both good and bad.

Rather, we were idealistic and naïve concerning ourselves and our own abilities. Much like teens who don’t really believe anything bad will actually happen to them, regardless of the risks they might take.

We assumed that awareness of all of the above, thorough preparation, learning the language, zeal, grit and a whole lot of prayer would keep us from stumbling into those same pitfalls. We were determined to collaborate with local believers, allowing them to take the lead as experts in their world and culture. We wholeheartedly desired accountability and legitimate partnership not just with those back “home” but also our expat colleagues, and especially, our local partners. We wanted our well-being to be intrinsically linked to the good of the community that we had come to serve – so that there was mutual dependence and an atmosphere of “we” instead of an “us/them” mentality. We hoped to build an atmosphere of authentic give and take… all while balancing ministry, family and just-surviving-life-in-Africa responsibilities.

It sounded great in theory and we thought we were as ready as we could be. It was so much more difficult in practice – mostly impossible, in fact, as we discovered.

For trying as hard as we knew how, praying as fervently as we might – I don’t think we ever really “achieved” any of those goals, at least not in over a decade of service. Yes, we saw glimpses of success. We lived moments, even seasons, of genuine collaboration, accountability, partnership and mutual dependence. Our little corner of Africa did become home – and life there actually felt a lot more normal than life back in Michigan, most of the time… But? There was always a line we struggled to cross… and stay across… both in our eyes and, it appeared, in the eyes of our community.

I don’t know how to define it exactly. Perhaps it would have been easier had there been some clearly marked line in the Sahara sand, at least easily seen if not easily stepped over?

We didn’t give up. However, my husband’s key ministry largely included teaching those with a vision for developing broadcasting and audio-visual ministry tools (for evangelism and discipleship) in a largely illiterate society the technical and production skills needed to do just that. After more than a decade, he was working with guys that knew what they were doing. We began to realize that as long as he remained in country, people would continue to come to him for projects that others could… and probably should… do. Most of the guys (and gals) he trained were using those skills to earn enough to run a business, feed their families and sought to serve God at the same time. The studio he ran, however, was a nonprofit ministry and simply recuperated operating costs. Our family lived off of support monies provided by donors in the States.  In the end, we concluded that we needed to remove ourselves from the equation. After all, as missionaries, aren’t we, at least in a sense, trying to work ourselves out of a job so that like Paul, we can move on to another place of service?

Continuing to reflect, we’ve come to the conclusion that part of the reason we were never able to permanently cross that line in the sand, no matter how much we wanted to and prayed and tried and then prayed some more…

that line remained as long as our well-being (personal, family, ministry) wasn’t intrinsically embedded within the well-being of our community.

Even though we theoretically wanted to be part of, and helping to build, a mutually dependent community – as long as others knew we could leave if things got THAT bad, as long as we knew that we had support monies coming in from elsewhere regardless of the local economy, etc. I don’t know what the answer is or even if there is an answer.  I’m not suggesting the existence of some sort of missionary formula for achieving genuine community. I personally know others who did cross that line given similar external circumstances. Does that mean we failed? I don’t think so… at least I hope not.

I’ve wondered for a few days, now, how to wrap this post up. Then, in my margin time this morning, I took one of those silly Facebook quizzes, to see just how much I remembered from high school and college lit classes. This quiz had you match book titles with the name of a key character. Surprising, how many of those key characters were described as hero-slash-villain, in other words? Both. It is one of the things our kids have discovered watching the television reality show Survivor.

Most people aren’t simply all hero or all villain – but have moments (or seasons) of “either/or” as well as “both. The same is true for missionaries.

We’d like to “go,” serve, empower, collaborate and see ourselves as the enabling heroes. But sometimes we aren’t, despite our sincere motivations and best intentions. We even end up “un-enabling” others.


Sometimes we actually end up the villains in a story, especially when we forget we aren’t the author…

Searching for a better way

My husband and I have literally raised (more accurately, are still raising) our family “internationally.” I’m typing as we drive through the night, returning our third to the States. She graduated last week and now is beginning a gap year where she will work and earn money for college. She’s pretty sure she wants to be a teacher someday – maybe even teach at an international school in some far off corner of the world.


In our years as expats, we’ve met many other families doing this very same international, expat life. Some move overseas to work for a few years, always planning to return to their home countries after that sojourn. Others move to another country planning, like us, to spend most – if not all – of the rest of their lives engaged in some form of international (missions, development, diplomatic, military, etc.) work.

I’ve also met several families who’ve come to a fork in the road, a conundrum where they felt they had no other responsible choice but to change that long term plan for a reason that I find hard to accept.

They “head home,” usually feeling defeated, depleted and as though they’ve failed… leaving their adopted home not because they wanted to, but because they were unable to find adequate educational resources to meet the specific and sometimes challenging needs of one or more of their children, in particular a child with some type of disability.

This is a subject near and dear to my heart, for I am a special educator by trade. I’ve taught individuals with severe physical disabilities how to swim. I’ve worked with incarcerated teens. I’ve privately tutored TCKs struggling to pass classes they need to graduate. I’ve helped develop and adapt educational programs, writing plans for children of almost every age and with widely ranging ability levels – academically, behaviorally and socially. I’ve collaborated and consulted with classroom teachers, giving suggestions and ideas to try to help struggling students learn. My specific specialty is teaching reading and comprehension strategies (a field of study which easily adapted to adult literacy work in tribal/local languages), but I also love helping kids who find math an impossibility learn to navigate that world of numbers and word problems.

My educational background has also come in handy with my own children: two struggle with articulation disorders (and while speech and language pathology is NOT something I know much about, I do have skills in my repertoire that have helped me to better help my kids in this area); another battles dyslexia and dysgraphia – in two languages.

I’m thankful for my educational background.  The skills I have developed aren’t “exclusive,” and much of what I do, professionally, simply requires patience, careful observation and creative thinking. But my training gave me the confidence to go ahead and try…

My story isn’t the story most expat parents who find themselves overseas with little or no resources for a child who struggles to learn.

Had I not had this background in special education… if I hadn’t had that training (and sometimes the letters behind my name) which prepared me to advocate for students who struggled when teachers taught the status quo, we could have very well been one of those families heading back to our passport country, feeling like we’d failed – not only in work and/or ministry, but perhaps even more significantly, in properly caring for our family.

If you don’t believe this is a problem, take a quick glance at the staffing needs, or “wish lists,” for international schools servicing TCKs around the world. Every spring, these lists are posted and circulated. Almost every single one that I’ve checked is requesting help in the special education domain.

While still in W. Africa, I was blessed to be a part of a school that was developing a special education “department” to help address the needs of children who, in the United States, would have had an Individualized Education Plan that targeted specific learning goals and objectives. That plan would include detailed educational setting accommodations which would better allow the student to either access information being presented in their classrooms or to better demonstrate his/her comprehension and application of that information. It was exciting to be part of a program that allowed some students to achieve and succeed where they never had before. However, one of the hardest things I had to do during my time at that school was write up a report delineating the necessary parameters to be met before a student with disabilities could be considered for enrollment. Sadly, the reality was that the burden of responsibility fell on the parents because the school had neither the necessary personnel nor resources to address the student’s particular needs. That family left a fruitful ministry and returned to their home country.

I don’t mean to imply that there is a clear right and wrong given these circumstances. The school wanted to help, but didn’t have the necessary “tools.” The parents wanted to enroll their child in the school, but couldn’t meet the required contingencies.

Just recently, we were walking on a terrace that overlooks the St. Lawrence River, and looked out to watch a mini drama unfold. A tugboat had raced up to the sailboat (the little one in the middle, between the much larger boats), sat there for a minute and then went back to escorting the barge. That sailboat sat motionless as the two big boats passed on either side, heading in opposite directions, remaining in that same spot, even many minutes after the larger boats had moved on.


Parents facing this situation often feel a whole lot like I imagine the folks sailing that the sailboat must have felt: trapped, paralyzed and afraid that even a small move in the wrong direction could result in catastrophe.

I don’t have statistics, but based on my own personal experience, I do know that this type of reality happens more than it should. We’ve encountered several families forced to make a difficult choice: leave the place they felt God had called them to be to address challenging educational needs of a child that were not being otherwise met.

They often do so without the support or understanding from either their expat or the home/sending communities.

I dream and pray for a better way…

Do you know someone who had to/is having to leave the field to address the challenging academic needs of one or more of their children?

How can we support those who are walking this path?

What is in place to help families and children with disabilities in your present place of service?

Nothing short of marvelous

“It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkable difficult to kill.”

(Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders)


I’ve officially decided that TCKs (third culture kids) are nothing short of marvelous.

In the past three years, we’ve moved from the sand storms, 100 degree plus temps and mango rains of early March in the Sahel/Sahara… to the very white, very frozen and frigid March of a far northern land. As I type these words on what is, officially, the 4th day of spring, a winter storm rages outside, local buses are not running and I heard the snow plow pass at least 3 times before 7 a.m.

We’ve “launched” two who are now living (and living well) in a different country than their nuclear family. A third will be striking out this June.

We ripped out beginning roots again, moving the other six to another new school in another new place in a new-to-most-of-them language.

One of those six? We did “that” to her without realizing it was going to be the equivalent of her senior year. We thought we’d done all of the necessary investigation and research ahead of time to know better…  or to at least warn her before the guidance counselor at her school sat down with her last fall and began the talk about upcoming steps to take as she received her diploma and began life after high school. Yet she’s plunged into life – head first, not a tentative feet first. She is working hard, loving people and making exciting and careful decisions about her future – all the while impressing most everyone who’s interacted with her.

My gentle and tender-hearted third grade extrovert would happily take 30 or 45 minutes walking the hallway after church to greet and hug, everyone – catching up on the week and receiving up-dates on her list of prayer requests? Instead, she has had that part of her personality greatly hampered this year – learning to communicate in a new language while facing the exhaustion of redoing each school day at home every night so that she could make sure she was grasping the actual content. Yet she greets mornings with a smile and the rigorous discipline that she’s going to try to orally respond to at least two questions asked in class – every day – even though it is hard AND scary.

Then, there’s that emerging tweener – entering an age laden with so many social complications. He has speech and language issues in his mother tongue… Yet he has been braving the laughs while giving oral presentations to his class in another language, pronunciation and articulation mistakes and all – because that is a key objective in this year’s curriculum. He’s won over a core group of buddies, his teacher and the entire male preschool crew at church in the process.

And those are just a few of my favorite TCKs – ones who live in my house, ones I birthed.

I’ve also regular and consistent opportunity to interact with a whole boatload of other TCKs – virtually and in real life – and not all of whom claim Christianity or who have parents deeply concerned with their emotional or spiritual well-being. Some of them are friends of my gang; some are children at our present very international church; others are children I’ve taught in the past or am presently teaching.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I’ve officially decided that TCKs are nothing short of marvelous.

So why is it that often times as I peruse the TCK literature, I easily come away with this image that TCKs are

  • fragile
  • incomprehensibly complex
  • overwhelmed by grief in all that they’ve lost and
  • in need of deliberate, intentional parenting, and often, intensive help

just to survive  and adjust to this lifestyle chosen for them by their parents and/or to reintegrate into life outside of their family/TCK culture? That if we, as parents (or teachers , pastors, etc.), don’t do everything just right, our TCK kids will end up messed up for life, lost between worlds… and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves… and God?

All of “that” may be true – or at least clearly contains elements of truth. It may be true that TCKs are fragile, grieving, complex and that they do benefit from deliberate intentional parenting and sometimes need intensive help. We, as parents, should be “doing” those good things.

But it is also true that it is way too easy to buy into what seems to be a distinctly western (and sometimes Christian) way of thinking: we must protect our children at all costs from all things bad because they are so fragile and so easily broken. Maybe we lean towards that sort of thinking because any preoccupation (i.e. with our TCKs) keeps us from facing up to our own fragility, life complexities, grief and need for someone to come alongside us…

However, I don’t believe that to be so, at least not in the black and white way I often end up feeling as I read the literature.

Let me repeat: I don’t believe that to be so.

I don’t, for a couple of reasons:

First, it sets me, the parent, up as the primary and most important influence in my child’s life – even, in a subtle but very real way, above God. “May it never be!” for that teaches nothing short of idolatry. A verse from Matthew comes to mind – “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” I can do everything in my power, sacrifice all that I have to give – to see my children profit and live a life relatively unscathed by the ugliness often lurking just around the corner, great grief or difficult and sometimes repeated losses. A lofty goal? Yes. But even if I could achieve it, would that really accomplish God’s purposes in their lives?  How clearly can my child see God’s powerful hand working on his/her behalf, and in unimagined ways, if I’m always in the way, monopolizing their attention and fixing things to that feelings of pain are minimized or somehow magically whisked away?

Equally horrifying, this mentality disguises the influence of God’s grace working out and working in the lives of these amazing kids. We’re talking about kids who’ve had opportunity to see and experience more of His world than most. Do I really believe that God so loved the world… then do I not also believe that God so loves these TCKs? They know our world is broken and have seen so first hand. Why not let them also experience, unfiltered, the amazingness of God’s great and amazing grace that upholds our broken world with its broken spaces.

Finally, believing that this fragility, complexity grief and brokenness is bad… or is unique to TCKs… divides and sets apart from what is, essentially, a human condition that helps drive us to the Savior.

This has been our oldest’s biggest struggle: seeing how God intimately and passionately cares for him and what he loves – not just his family, his church, etc… Lately, I’ve been deeply convicted that one of my young mama mistakes was too carefully crafting his world as he knew it – protecting or screening him from too much. I didn’t trust God enough to let my boy see God answering… or to allow him to hear God give “no” as “wait” as the answer. Now I have no choice and so much less direct influence; it is a lot harder to learn how now, for the stakes seem much higher.


Well-adjusted TCKs don’t turn out because of strict adherence to a list of best practices and good ideas… or because of a formula followed.

Even more sobering to consider?

Perhaps socially well-adjusted… emotionally healthy… or whatever other words you might choose… is the wrong goal.


What do you think? What is our goal, as parents of TCKs?

As professionals or others who have opportunities to regularly interact with TCKs?

When dreams come true and life gets uncomfortable  

Over 40 years ago and a brand-new baby follower of Jesus, I promised God that if He’d have me, I’d someday be a missionary for Him when I grew up.

In what is now approaching 25 years ago, I met a guy who also felt God might just be directing him towards a lifetime of cross-cultural missions work.

I ended up marrying that guy, and twenty years ago he took a “survey” trip to “deepest, darkest” Africa, confirming in our hearts that Niger was where God was leading.

Nearly a generation ago, with three small ones and one on the way, we moved out of the United States for the very first time… That first move was a temporary one… a stepping stone… a place for us to focus on learning a new language and to first dip our toes into the waves of cross cultural living.


I fell in love with that temporary place. If it had been up to my heart, I would have never left. My heart no longer cared that a city on the shores of the Sahara was our ultimate goal. Maybe it was a little like love at first sight…???

Now, years later, after working hard to choose to learn to love our desert home, her people, her culture – God started impressing upon our hearts that He had another transition in store. My heart entrenched, feet firmly planted, work I loved, community I adored, surrounded by immense needs – on every level – so great that we would never more than scratch the surface. Yet God insisted it was time to leave the place that had finally become home for me. It was the only place our eight children really even wanted to call home.

God brought us back to my first love, that first transition spot…

My far-out there dream had come true. We’ve been here for six months and I feel a bit like a kid at Christmas, staring at a tree surrounded by gifts and wondering where to start.


Recently, I met an African refugee family whose journey to Quebec also started roughly 20 years ago – not unlike ours. There’s a huge difference, however: they’ve been long term refugees in one country after fleeing their home… only to end up here, once again refugees fleeing their now unstable and dangerous refuge.

It isn’t fair that He gives some above and beyond -overwhelmingly blessing- while others don’t even seem to have the promised-in-the-Bible daily bread.

I’ve been wrestling with this idea for a few months, now – and, like Jacob, I feel like I’m walking with a permanent limp. God didn’t have to, but for right now, He’s put me in what just might be the one place in all of this world where I would have put my finger down on a map and said, “I’d LOVE to live here!” Not for spiritual or lofty reasons, but simply because I love this place, the weather, the culture, the people. I want to celebrate this gift without feelings of guilt, yet…

Others, with better obedience and deeper faith than I,  who’ve sacrificed more than I could imagine just to wear the label of Jesus follower? They’ve lost family, friends, homes, possessions, opportunity… and I’ve been gifted the luxury of working in a ministry I love, with friends and family relatively near, in a place I’ve long dreamed of.

Somewhere – probably on social media – I read a quote about having a theology that travels well… a theology that “works,” not just in my culture and present situation but in all cultures regardless of the situation and all over the world. I’ve tried and tried to find the actual quote again, to no avail. But as I remember, the context had to do with crediting God for what some might consider a trivial-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-blessing in the very real face of another’s great suffering and lack (i.e. gushing about God providing a dreamed for “luxury” car when others around me have lost home, family, job…).

I get the point and it’s valid.

The goal is to NOT transport theological concepts blindly wrapped and packaged in Western cultural baggage and trappings.

Yet good theology insists that we rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who weep – valuing others above self, not looking to self interests but to the interests of the others, and remembering to be sensitive to the very real and very hard life actualities overwhelming those around me.

Good theology also acknowledges the sufficiency and sovereignty of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving and all sufficient God. Thus, every good thing, every hard thing, even every bad thing… every single thing… comes, ultimately, from or through His hand.

If you go back and look at the story of Job, a man well-known because of his great suffering, don’t miss the fact that Satan didn’t come to God singling out Job. It was actually God who first mentioned Job’s name… God who focused Satan’s sights on Job.

As I’ve wrestled, I guess I’ve finally decided that I don’t want a theology that travels well – although having such a one might be more convenient and less messy.

Rather, I want a theology that accurately presents, represents and reflects the character of my sovereign, all-sufficient, all gracious and holy God – even when, from my perspective, the results are messy and inconvenient and any answers I might offer fall short.

To quote CS Lewis: “He’s not a tame lion.”

Of Sheep and Wolves, Serpents and Doves

It happened in the car while bringing the kids home from school sometime this year… nothing extraordinary or life changing, but I can’t stop thinking about it.


As missionaries on support learning a new ministry in a new place (that is just about as polar opposite as possible from where we were), we are still figuring out how to make everything work: daily schedules, doctor appointments, health insurance, where to go for car repairs, credits for graduation, future college plans, the budget… Recently, we ran into that not uncommon problem of “more month than money” requiring, for one, creativity in the kitchen – the idea being to use up what was there without running to the store for more.

A frequent after school car ride occurrence is a kids’ critique of the lunches I packed and sent. That day, most of what I’d heard was that lunch was “Yummy!” but there weren’t enough crackers to go with the soup. So I looked over at my girl who’d only received a handful of broken cracker pieces and crumbs from the bottom of the bag and asked her if she was upset. She smiled and said, “No, Mama. I really just thought it was sweet of you to crumble up the crackers for me to put in my soup.”

Wow! My eyes filled with tears. I was both speechless… and immediately convicted!

She knows I love her. She trusts me. She assumed the best possible motivation for what she found in her lunch that day.

Do you ever wonder what our world would be like if we all chose to act and believe like my teenage daughter did that afternoon?

First? What if those of us who follow Christ as Savior and King rested in His sovereignty? What if we believed that whatever He allowed/allows, somehow He works so that it is for good. What if we then acted correspondingly, instead of allowing fear or anger or jealousy to dictate thoughts, words, actions and reactions?

Secondly? What if we chose to first assume good intentions, especially by those who’ve demonstrated time and again that they love and/or care about us? What if we chose to trust proven confidence, even when we don’t exactly see why we should.

Thirdly? What if we recognized that the image of God stamped upon and within each human means that sometimes (by God’s grace and mercy), men and women are capable of amazing sacrifice, generosity, wisdom, creativeness and perseverance? And I don’t just mean the Christians of the world. What if our initial response was to look for that image of God in others, regardless of faith profession, because God’s Word teaches it is there?

Perhaps that is a “utopic” view of the world.

I was taught through years of Sunday school truths like:

  • “The heart is deceitful, above all things, and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” (Jer 17.9)
  • “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts… [and so on]” (Mark 7.21)
  • “There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands; there is none that seeks after God.” (Rom 3.10-11)

I still believe those truths. I know I find it harder to respond to life in a way that reflects God’s image… than I do to respond in a way that reflects my own sinfulness, even after 40 years of walking with Him.

But does that mean we give up on looking for the glimpses of His image in others? That we don’t encourage ourselves and others to become what God created them to be?

When Jesus commissioned and sent out the disciples (Matthew 10), He foretold danger. This business we are about is a risky business. The possibility of hurt or worse is high. I love how Matthew Henry puts it: “Christ foretold troubles, not only that the troubles might not be a surprise, but that they might confirm their faith….” Jesus was downright blunt:  He was sending them as sheep among the wolves. Yet, at the same time, He gave rather specific instructions about how to approach such a daunting task: Be “wise [intelligent, prudent, sensible] as serpents and [at the same time, be] innocent [simple, unsophisticated, sincere, blameless] as doves.”


Human nature seems to swing towards reactive extremes where Jesus advocates balance: sensibility combined WITH simple sincerity… intelligence coupled WITH innocence. Innocence must temper wisdom – otherwise we are nothing more than crafty manipulators. Innocence must be solidified by wisdom – otherwise we become ineffective, disregarded do-gooders.   Innocence just may keep us from harming others; wisdom just may protect us from needless harm. In the words of Thomas Watson, “…innocence without wisdom is too weak to be [productive]. Wisdom without innocence is too subtle to be good.”  One extreme tempers the other – and what a beautiful analogy! Blacksmiths have long known that both the hardness and the elasticity of metals are improved by reheating and then cooling. This process makes the metal both stronger and more resilient. Metals are, effectively, improved when elasticity counterbalances with strength. And this knowledge about metallurgy has been around since before the time of Jesus! The oldest known example of tempered metal is a pick axe discovered found in Galilee, and that dates from around 1200 to 1100 BCE [1].

So yeah… I’ve been thinking about this in light of current world events… while remembering that there’s “nothing new under the sun…” and also knowing that we are sent as sheep sent among wolves… without forgetting that all humans have God’s indelible image stamped within…



Where do you see a lack of balance between wisdom and innocence as our world (Christians in particular) responds to recent events?

Are you more likely to skew to the side of wisdom or innocence? In light of that tendency, how do you find a balance between the two extremes?

[1] Roberts, G. A., and George Krauss. Tool Steels. 5th ed. Materials Park, OH: ASM International, 1998. 2. Print.

Uncomfortable Unknowns with Young’uns

I wrote the original version of these words just over five years ago, in September 2010. Five years later, I could still be writing these words – it doesn’t feel like much has changed at all. And yet, our children have gotten older, it seems like the stakes are higher… everything has changed and just keeps on changing SO. VERY. MUCH! So I share these words again, today, in the hopes that they might encourage one who keeps looking for that light at the end of the transition tunnel only to uncover yet another bend with weakening flashlight batteries (or flickering candles, depending on where you minister). In our family, God’s grace and presence in this life chock-full of shiftings and switchings, has been rock-solid constant. Most days, our only response is rejoicing in all God has done and continues to do.


Our little Jonathan recently began school – a first language French school – for the first time. Yesterday, as he was sharing with us about his day, he told us about working on saying and writing the alphabet in French instead of English. Suddenly, he stopped and exclaimed: “AND Mama! Did you know they say zshee for ‘J’ and zshay for ‘G?’ THAT. IS. JUST. WRONG!!!”

We JUST don’t like change, do we?

We tend to resist anything that pushes, prods or pulls us from a place of the comfortable customary to the uncomfortable unknown. Jonathan expressed that rather eloquently, and while we laughed (for the look on his face as that realization dawned on him was priceless), my mind was drawn to the present struggles of our present state of transition.

Without a doubt, it is emotionally harder to move back and forth with older children and teens – for they are very capable of identifying, mourning, and resisting the change AND all that they’ve lost because of the changes we inflict upon them. They just refind some semblance of belonging, and we uproot them again to go to a place that isn’t what they remember leaving or expect to find upon arriving. So, they are back to figuring out where they belong, once more. People leave; others grow, looking and sounding different; still others change and have new priorities or a different direction. Nothing remains static, and so it is never the same.

I’ve pondered and prayed much. Just exactly how are we to shepherd our children through this time?  God, it seems, keeps bringing me back to very well-known verses – so well-known that I might tend to skip right over them without considering their application to right now. They are, without a doubt, some of the most beautiful and comforting words in all of the Bible – words about what it looks like to be a good shepherd:

The LORD is my shepherd;

I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths,

bringing honor to His name.

Even when I walk

through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid,

for you are close beside me.

Your rod and your staff

protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me

in the presence of mine enemies.

You honor me by anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me

all the days of my life,

And I will live in the house of the LORD


Psalm 23 (NLT)

When God blesses us with children, He gives us the privilege of becoming shepherds. Parenthood is on way we learn to imitate the heart of our God and Savior. So I read these words, words first stamped onto my heart over 40 years ago, gentle words reminding me how the Good Shepherd cares for me… and see a very practical path for shepherding my children.


As a doer, I focus on the verbs.

There ARE specific things I can do to help my children in this life of often unrelenting change:

  • I let them rest by making sure our home is a place of security, fun, and respite from the stresses in their worlds.
  • I lead as I demonstrate with word/action/attitude a gentle spirit that accepts and welcomes God’s sovereignty. I  lead by remaining expectant, looking to see God’s hand.
  • I help them renew: revamp harried schedules, disciple, repair wrong attitudes and beliefs, restore tired hearts, make good on my promises, and renovate by salvaging or commiserating on the inevitable bad days. Be available to text or Skype with the far away ones. Remember, siblings are sometimes the very best medicine for struggling siblings! Grandparents, cousins and far away besties are pretty good medicine, too.
  • I guide, drawing them along with me as I run to Jesus in every celebration, challenge, sorrow – even (or especially?) the mundane moments.
  • I stay close and comfort by listening and caring about the big and little things that matter – because they matter to them, they must also matter to me; sometimes a little snuggle, hug or emoticon does just the trick.
  • I protect through consistent discipline, first of myself and then my children, when necessary.
  • I prepare “feasts” – healthy, nutritious snacks and meals that I know will delight my family. I dedicate prep time to prayer – for them. I encourage kids to work alongside me and share about or pray through their day, together.
  • I honor my children:  a) respect feelings, attitudes, and perceptions (even perceptions needing to be corrected), b) admire accomplishments and the person God is growing them to be, c) protect their reputations, and d) remember that they, too, are equal heirs with me of the King.
  • I pursue them, always, with goodness and unfailing love, regardless of whether we always agree – the source of this love is the one and only Good Shepherd.

Most importantly, I trust. I try to follow the example of my Shepherd; it is He who opens the eyes of my children so that they see their cup overflowing with blessings from heaven.


What Bible passages encourage you as you try and parent your TCKs through hard seasons?

How do you practically apply those encouraging words?

adapted and reposted from here

Across the Great Divide

As a kid, I vaguely remember watching a movie called Across the Great Divide. I don’t remember a ton of details – essentially two orphan kids have to get across the Rocky Mountains and to the West Coast to get their inheritance. In the process, they meet up with… and end up partnering with… a con man which ends up being key to reaching their goal.


The title of the movie has an obvious meaning. Those orphans had to cross the Continental, or Great, Divide – a hydrological boundary that runs from the Bering Strait in Alaska to the Strait of Magellan, at the tip of South America. This line divides two great watersheds. To the east of the divide, all water drains, ultimately, into the Atlantic Ocean. To the west, it courses to the Pacific.

There is, however, another more symbolic meaning to those words. The Great Divide was not just that place where geologically, water flow separated. It was also the converse – it was the place where, for a moment, those ultimately heading in very different directions actually met. Thus, metaphorically, what could be seen by some only as only a source of division could, conceivably, also become a summit meeting place, a place for conversation and dialogue, a place for challenge, growth and change…

Within Christianity, there are a number of these “great divides,” and missions is no different. One very key “divide” is the focus, or ultimate goal, of different ministries: evangelism and church building versus social justice.

Matt Chandler, relatively recently wrote about this question.  He identified two “gospels:” one centering around an individual’s salvation through the mechanism of faith in the sufficiency of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. This “gospel” leads to “preaching” the story of Jesus so that others, too, can repent and be saved. The other “gospel,” found at the other extreme, is a gospel striving to achieve God’s Kingdom on earth through the mechanism of social justice, but often sacrificing message proclamation in the doing of good works. Most readers here would agree, at least in theory, that the Gospel clearly contains both. As Ron Sider (both a professor of theology and author) says, “People are both spiritual and material beings… Addressing only half the problem only gives you half of the solution.”

baptismal service - at the conclusion of yearly rains and the harvest
baptismal celebration – at the conclusion of yearly rains and crop harvest

Four years ago, in the fall of 2011, two high profile Christians, Al Mohler and Jim Wallis, publicly debated this issue, each charged with answering the question: “Is social justice is an essential part of the mission of the church[/multicultural missions work]?” Wallis argued yes. Churches must choose to get involved with social justice issues because justice is integral to the Gospel message. Mohler said no.  A church’s social justice involvement is not organizational, but is instead implied as members of that church are changed by the message of the Gospel and become increasingly active disciples of Jesus doing good works. Both men represented views at the far ends of a spectrum… but all still on the same continuum.

assisting local churches in grain distributions in famine stricken villages
assisting local churches with grain distributions in famine stricken villages

John Stott, one of my heroes when it comes to theology, also addressed this issue, way back in 1975 (which is, incidentally, right around the same time that movie Across the Great Divide hit theaters). Writing in Christian Mission in the Modern World, Stott identifies three basic ways that social action and evangelism interact, or – as I like to think of it – mingle:

  1. Good works with a social justice focus is superior to and more effective than proclamation of the Gospel communicating words in growing the Kingdom of God.
  2. Social action authenticates the message, but is otherwise subservient to evangelical proclamation leading to salvation decisions as the biblical means for spreading the Gospel.

Stott insisted that both of the above positions in the social justice/Gospel preaching divide are rooted error. Forty years ago, he advocated a different method, a third way, for this inevitable interaction between declaring the message and doing good works. According to Stott, justice and message are not two opposing ends of a continuum where we must figure out some way to meet somewhere in the middle. Rather, they “belong to each other and yet are independent of each other. Each stands on its own feet in its own right alongside the other. Neither is a means to the other, or even a manifestation of the other. For each is an end in itself.” In other words, each is positively essential.

Are we to go unto all the world and preach the Gospel to all nations? Absolutely!

Are we to do good unto all men, regardless of personal cost or any hope of a return on the investment? Unconditionally!

That is exactly what Jesus, the one we say we want to imitate, modeled. He came into the world, mingling with people and their culture. He preached the Gospel. He used words… He is “The Word.” His very first public sermon? “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” (Luke 4.18 ESV) He healed the sick, fed the hungry, included the outcasts, freed the bound. At the cross, He did the ultimate good unto all men at the ultimate personal cost with no guarantee that men would accept His gift.

Why, then, is it so hard to put this theoretical partnership into a practice where evangelizing and entering into the practical service of meeting needs are considered equaling engaging? Because some proponents of social justice have abandoned the Gospel, and therefore – rightly – we are cautious. Meanwhile, some Gospel preachers ignore very real needs and insist on faith glimpses first, or even worse, teach that those needs are evidence of a missing or misplaced faith. Sin… selfishness… greed… pride… arrogance… competitiveness… unwillingness to change… unteachability…


How do we make doing good and preaching the Good News the two pillars on which our ministries and missions are supported and the name of God is lifted high and glorified?

What are your experiences of standing at this place of great divide, personally or organizationally?

How do you/does your organization reach across and build partnerships that testify of not just the importance but necessity of both the Gospel message and good works.

The Cart before the Donkey?


In what feels like just a few days ago (although it has been a couple of months, now), we packed up our lives – again – to transition to a new place… And that transition has been going beautifully, really. But we made the move knowing that one of us, my husband or myself, would need to return to the States to move our daughter off to college. Fortunately, while we are living cross culturally and speaking a different language, we are on the same continent and so it was only a long train ride and drive back to be with and help her through this first part of this big growing up season of her life.

While I’ve been back, I was able to listen to a very good sermon – in English! – and very apropos for my young’un just now beginning to strike out on her own  – inspired by the words from Proverbs 2:1-12a. The preacher made two key points:

  1. Daily depend on God and His Word; and
  2. Daily dependence on God and His Word leads to wise decisions and gives direction in life.

Great points for any young person… actually, for any person, regardless of age!

But it was really the next part of the sermon that got me to thinking… because one of the applications drawn was that to “daily depend” and therefore have the ability and help needed to make wise decisions and have direction for the future, you must regularly read God’s Word.

The preacher shared some statistics – like how according to recent polls, around 80% (if I’m remembering the statistic correctly – but the point is – a large majority) of evangelical Christians say they read God’s Word once a week. My guess would be that once a week would be Sunday, when they go to church. The point of sharing those numbers was to help his listeners see just how easy it is to fall within a population of people who easily say, “I love God and His Word. I try to live my life following Him and the principles found in His Word,” but who, in reality, might not ever spend enough time interacting with God through His Word for that to be true.

Good point.

True point.

Then, I started thinking of a woman I met, the woman whose example continually convicts me of my compared-to-her apathy when it comes to interacting with God through His Word. Choosing to follow Christ had cost her dearly in this life – yet part of her daily greeting to everyone was a huge smile and a heartfelt, “May God continue to teach you thankfulness in every moment!” She knew the Bible stories and could recite large sections of Scripture. She hummed psalms and songs of thanksgiving while going about her daily affairs – and she lived a hard life where daily sustenance was not a given, much less most of the comforts and luxuries to which I regularly assume I am entitled. And, she couldn’t read.

I know this because I spent two years working with her, helping her learn how to slowly, haltingly, read at the kindergarten/first grade level in her mother language. I’ll never forget the moment she read God’s Word for herself, for the first time: she danced in celebration and cried tears of joy. She had just sounded out the words in a sentence to recognize the story of Ruth and Boaz in the Bible. And then our town flooded and she had to move back to her home town to be near her sister. I really never got to say goodbye or see what she did with that emerging skill.


As I sat in church that recent Sunday and listened to the preacher, I took a third point from his sermon – one that I think applies to those working cross culturally, especially as we seek to spiritually mentor and disciple people.

In middle class, Bible-belt Americana – my cultural background – it might be a good and fair assumption that daily dependence on God and His Word is evidenced by someone consistently and daily reading the Bible. That might even be on the mental checklist when considering someone for a position of leadership within the church. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it should be.

But, if I carry that same mental checklist with me when traveling to and ministering within another culture or community where the ability to read isn’t an almost automatic given, I’ve lost any semblance of contextually appropriate cultural authenticity.

Daily reading and independent study of God’s Word is a “form” that is recognized in my world as evidence of a much more important “function:” interacting with God and His Word, allowing His truth to penetrate into heart, soul, mind, and spirit, resulting in change and direction for life. In a predominately illiterate culture, that function cannot be represented by the form of daily reading and independent study of God’s Word. This doesn’t mean we ignore that function; it means we find culturally workable way for it to be manifested.


As cross cultural workers, when form (regardless of how good and appropriate and effective that form may have been in our home worlds and cultures) becomes more important than function, we put the cart before the donkey and become culturally irrelevant.

I’ve spent a number of years living in a land where I couldn’t walk down the street without seeing at least one donkey pulling a cart, and the people knew that if you tried to get the cart to pull the donkey, it just wouldn’t work.  How often do we discourage and turn people away from potential friendship with God by preaching a culturally irrelevant form and thus diluting and deforming, if not outright blocking, Christ’s message of hope and salvation by darkening the amazing grace of the Gospel?

How can we major on the majors and prevent home culture interference on the “form” of a biblical “function” when working cross culturally? 

How do you, personally, make sure that form follows function in your cross-cultural work and/or ministry?

When a margin-less season really is just another grace


The last several weeks have been nothing short of overwhelming:

  • kindergarten graduation
  • high school graduation
  • soccer championship
  • realizing I probably need shoulder surgery… again
  • fun with overseas visitors – friends we know from Africa who are either studying in the States or were visiting their former colonies
  • camping
  • two brand spanking new licensed drivers
  • unexpected car repairs (and just to clarify – not due to those new drivers)
  • decluttering – otherwise known as deciding what we keep and take versus what we trash or give away
  • packing
  • some more packing
  • some of that packing needing to be unpacked and then repacked differently
  • last minute sleepovers and get-togethers with friends
  • last minute get-together requests that had to be denied or declined because there just wasn’t time
  • dealing with tears and disappointment as a result of the previous statement
  • cleaninguhaul and elephants
  • loading a U-Haul
  • tears – saying goodbye to our college guy studying biology
  • worrying about that college guy – his internship this summer means he’s driving an hour plus (one way), his shift doesn’t end until midnight and now I’m no longer able to listen for the door and know he’s home safe
  • tears – saying goodbye to our freshly graduated gal while hoping that the next morning she’d actually be able to successfully drive herself to work since she’d never done that before and we’d be out of the country if she needed help
  • miles of driving
  • receiving four year work permits after a few hours waiting at the border
  • getting lost trying to find the next necessary office
  • receiving tax numbers after another chunk of time waiting in an office
  • driving some more
  • driving in really heavy traffic with a kayak and lots of bikes strapped to the back of the car while following a U-Haul trailer hitched to a U-Haul truck
  • driving a final day
  • unloading that U-Haul
  • unpacking
  • some more unpacking
  • arranging
  • rearranging
  • introducing our expanded-from-when-we-were-in-this-place-before-family to friends
  • introducing our family who can’t remember being here before because they were too little to this place
  • meeting new friends
  • trying to think in and understand French again after not having used it much the past two years
  • trying to understand a particular accent of French we’ve not really heard for nearly 15 years
  • learning where to shop
  • searching for a bakery that includes nut-free products
  • finding where to get the car fixed since the inspection people were particularly picky
  • applying for renter’s insurance and car insurance and health insurance…
  • waiting in offices
  • waiting in traffic
  • learning to use the local bus system
  • walking and biking lots more since for the summer, we are a one car family and the car goes to the studio where hubby/daddy is ministering


That’s been our lives the past six or seven weeks. It doesn’t look so long on the calendar. But that list? And that first event? The kindergarten graduation? It feels like a lifetime ago. Really!

So little space.  It has been, in almost every way, a season of margin-less living. I don’t recommend it as a permanent lifestyle.

So much is new or strange or unfamiliar. At the very least, it’s outside any routine we’ve ever known before. These veteran missionaries don’t like wearing the “new” hat once again.

Leaving (especially to start over in a new place) will always challenge, and contrary to what I used to think way back when as we started this missionary journey, it hasn’t gotten any easier just because we’ve had some practice. The idea that practice makes perfect when it comes to leaving and transitioning is a myth… or a bold-faced lie. It certainly wasn’t any easier this time, even knowing we are just a very long day’s drive distant… instead of several plane rides remote. No matter how many times I say it, no matter how much I tried to convince myself (and others) it just might be different this time, parting remained a sweet, but deeply profound and intense, sorrow.

beautiful quebec

And that’s on top of the reality that we’ve just come through a season of little… if any… margin.

I found it funny that Jonathan just wrote about this subject a few days ago. And let me say straight up that I agree with everything he so beautifully said.

I’d just like to add a little addendum, though, because I’m one of those who isn’t very good at margin. I imagine I’m not the only one. Dr. Swenson’s book was reading required by our mission, before we were ever formally accepted as candidates. I’ve often felt like a failure because I can’t seem to master the principles on which Swenson expounded.

I think I’ve finally figured something out. For some, margin must be a carefully crafted space that they guard if they are to function well in a God-honoring way. I hope I’ve finally learned to not only permit, but to respect and honor someone who understands that truth about themselves.

For me – when I try to get intentional and guard some wasted space? Snap! Just like that, margin becomes an idol and my way of ministering independent of God. The lie that I can do this missionary thing in my own strength subtly takes over when I start planning for margin.

I find I often function better when my margin comes in seasons or, perhaps, layers? I don’t know quite what might be the right word to call it.

What I do know is that my recent margin-less “event” calendar was a disguised grace, for it actually gifted me the emotional margin to get through goodbyes and leaving two of my children behind as we returned to “les champs missionaires.” In other words, no margin in one domain actually provided the margin I more desperately required in another.

I’ve also discovered that for me, margin only really happens if I’m living out daily the truth that God is sovereign. I need Him; He doesn’t need me – thus it is okay to leave a task unfinished and decide to “waste” time. Sometimes I have to put one foot in front of the other, plodding along even when I’m too tired to lift my head and look around, trusting God to provide strength and rest and nourishment. I do try and spontaneously choose margin at some point every day. I have seasons with space for deep and intensive study of God’s Word; other times, quiet meditating on the fruit from those seasons in the midst of busyness nourishes, and in a totally different way as those things I’ve learned in my head have time to sink deep into my heart thanks to the realities of life. One thing I’ve recognized during those seasons of a margin-less layer is just how utterly, totally dependent I am upon God for and in every single aspect of life.

What’s the point? Having space in your life that is not planned and programmed and jam-packed is important. Finding, or making, margin is a must priority. But for me, at least a significant chunk of the time, it doesn’t come scheduled because then it ceases to be margin and is just one more event on the calendar that I need to check off and proof that I can do this on my own. Rather, I find margin as it emanates from the quietness and peace that comes when I rest in God’s sovereignty and remember (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) that relationships – with Him and with others – are His priority.

His sovereignty is what frees me to go against my natural inclinations and set down that list of all that still needs to be done, fold over the honey-do list and slide it back under the computer without griping, and say “Yes!” when hubby wants to pile the kids in the car and take time to uncover the beautiful places surrounding us. To say “Yes!” when my little guy asks me to wander to the park and watch the kids play lava tag, again. To shop every other day as my girl and I walk to the grocery store – buying just enough for today and tomorrow because that’s all we really want to carry back up the hill to the house. To join new friends for a birthday party celebration. To gather raspberries growing on the bushes at the park, in the rain.


Are you one who must plan for, making margin in your life and ministry a priority?

Or are you more like me – one for whom that sort of planning easily becomes a legalistic nightmare, and you find margin by trusting God?

What is your strategy for maintaining a good balance if you do both?

Credit for U-Haul/elephant photo collage -
Tina Heydenberg

When Trust Stands Tall

I saw or heard that phrase somewhere this last year, and it has hung with me…

…because I need trust to stand tall. Like now!


A few days back, I went with my freshly graduated 18 year old to her yearly physical (she won’t have her license for a few more weeks). As the nurse measured her height, she encouraged her to stand tall – to push her back and heels flush against the wall, lengthen her neck and spine and look straight ahead.

Trust must stand tall.

Our seemingly forever season of transition/waiting is about to heat up, and not just because it’s summer time.

God has finally opened the doors for us to transition to the new place we’ve been thinking-praying-talking about for a few years now. Lord willing, we move in just a few weeks. We’re excited. We’re scared and nervous.

New ministries, new and more responsibilities, new church, new house in a new city, new friends, new school (and in a new language for several of our children). New grocery stores, new measures like liters instead of gallons and Celsius instead of Fahrenheit, new identity as we will no longer be those seemingly confident veterans but the very insecure and unsure newbies. For this introvert, it’s the stuff nightmares are made of!

Even in the busy excitement of preparations and hope-to-see-you-sooner-rather-than-later-get-togethers with family and friends, even in the well-known of “having been here done this,” I find myself continually having to choose to trust the One leading us this direction.

Trust must stand tall, especially as I think of what this transition means… will mean… for my family.


Two will remain in the States: one busy with an internship, work and classes at a local university while the other works until leaving for school in a distant state. Six travel with us. All of those “news” listed above, plus others, will belong to them as well.

What happens if we find – or perhaps more accurately – when we learn that this new path has caused significant issues with, or for, one or more of our children? What if one is hurt by others or one decides to choose a different path far from God in this new place or because of this new place? When our children struggle, does it mean we weren’t really “called” or that our discernment of God’s will was automatically defective?

Our marriage will, quite probably, enter one of those proverbial “rough patches.” But this one might be rougher and longer than any other before, and we might wonder, “Can we make it this time? Is it even worth it anymore?” Our parents’ health may decline, or a friend who might as well be family receive one of those dreaded diagnoses…

The list of “what-ifs” could go on, and sometimes as I read blogs (like a life overseas), I get the idea that expat workers really only have one right choice when responding to these hard things that are often consequences of this life we’ve chosen and it’s accompanying painful and challenging transitions. That’s because those of us who write in places like this do want to share with others the things we sincerely believe we’ve been taught by  1) God, 2) godly others, 3) study, 3) observation and/or 4) years of just living this lifestyle. If someone “listens” and then follows – doing what makes sense and seems right to us… then we think they’ve made a good decision; if they choose something different, than we easily communicate,  the idea that they are sacrificing family on the altar of ministry. And that is absolutely, and totally wrong.

Why? Three reasons immediately come to mind:

  1. We (i.e. those giving said suggestions and advice) are not omniscient. We give our advice. Do we then respectfully, tenderly, come alongside – even in the comments section of a blog post, regardless of what others have chosen?
  2. These words from the end of Philippians 1 ~ “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain… Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ… For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” In other words, we are told there will be hard times, unexplainable, unforeseen and undeserved things will happen.
  3. We also know “…that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

Do we live as though we believe God will redeem ALL?

  • The hard?
  • The suffering?
  • The sacrifice?
  • The impossible?
  • The unfair and unjust?
  • Our mistakes and wrong decisions?
  • Willful sin and disobedience… even our very own?

Choosing to believe that God WILL redeem, and in His timing – not mine?


 That is what it looks like when we allow trust to stand tall.


May you choose, this day (and the next… and the next…) to let trust stand tall.

Encourage other readers by sharing stories of how you’ve seen God redeem the impossible in the comments below!

Owl photo credit: Dick Stewart, Captured Memories

Who do you want to be when you grow up?

I can only ever really remember wanting to be a missionary… except for one brief period in my life.

And that single, brief period of disillusionment came after an encounter with another missionary.


A woman’s group at my church had volunteered to collect clothing to donate to a missionary our church supported, an individual who worked in a challenging inner city ministry. I volunteered to take the clothing and drop it off. It was a long drive and a city I didn’t know well, but I was heading near the location and I wanted to help. We had all of the details arranged.

Then there was an accident on the freeway. Traffic came to a standstill for a couple of hours. Even once we started moving again, it was slow going. As a result, it was after dark before I was able to get to a pay phone to call the missionary (back in the day before cell phones) and give notification that I was running late – and why. I also wanted to get precise directions (no Google maps and GPS to tell me every turn), and I was heading into a rough area of a city I didn’t know at all, at night.

It was after 11:00 when I finally arrived. I rang the doorbell and started unloading boxes of clothing from my car. The missionary came to the door, grumpily and grudgingly opened it… then stood there angrily complaining about the late hour and the horrible inconvenience while I removed everything from my car, carried it up the hill into the house and stacked it in a room, exactly where I’d been told to put it. I was afraid to say anything other than to profusely apologize – over and over. Once the last box was placed, I headed out to lock my car door, asking if I could use the bathroom quickly before I went on my way. I wasn’t able to finish my sentence… I turned around to see the door close in my face, hear the lock click and the porch lights flick off.  Nearly midnight, I had no idea how to get back out of the city, other than to retrace my steps. I was tired. And now, I needed to find a restroom I could use as well.

I was flabbergasted. I’d heard the angry complaints while I was carrying boxes – and I understood that inner city ministry could be lonely and unbelievably hard with positive decisions few and far between. I wondered if ministry had taken an idealistic and enthusiastic person wanting to serve God and turned them into the person I had met that night – someone angry, bitter, unwelcoming… and someone I never wanted to become.

That late night meeting with that missionary? It almost scared me away from the idea of missions and becoming a missionary… completely. Why? Because I didn’t want to end up like that person.

As a missionary, I am an international worker seeking to minister love and mercy, truth and grace – but often in places where love and mercy, truth and grace are in short supply and my human, sinful nature sometimes wins out. I speak that sharp word, frown instead of smile, complain – because the latest short term visitors have brought extra work and inconvenience…  And that interaction, right or wrong… that moment – forms someone’s impression of all missionaries and the God we serve.


It has taken me years to understand just how easily I could become… or, on some days, just how easily I actually am… that missionary who inhospitably stands and holds a door while spewing complaints. That’s an impossible weight to toss on someone’s shoulders. It is an impossible burden for me to try and carry. We are good at quoting, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” for the really big problems and sins we see in the lives of others. But what about for the bad days… the tired moments… the discouraging seasons… the times of depression… I am facing?

As we seek to minister love and mercy, grace and truth in challenging places and spaces – do we do so to our colleagues as well? Our fellow expat workers? Ourselves? How?

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

His mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is Your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in Him.”

photo credit: Swaying Thistles via photopin (license)

photo credit: Fading Day via photopin (license)

Lamentations 3:22-23